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Beyond the beauty of ornamental birds lies a lucrative business

Friday July 1 2016

Gladys Wangui Nduati displays a vulturine guinea fowl in her bird farm in Utawala.

Gladys Wangui Nduati, the proprietor of Goshen Bird Farm, Utawala, displays a vulturine guinea fowl in the shelters hosting her ornamental birds. PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

BRIAN OKINDA
By BRIAN OKINDA
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Walking past Gladys Nduati’s home in Utawala, Nairobi, one gets fascinated by loud birds’ songs and calls emanating from the compound.

Many wonder how the occupants of the 33 by 70ft plot deal with all that ‘noise’ day in, day out.

“That’s a small price to pay, considering what these birds bring into my pockets,” says Gladys.

Her front yard, measuring about 20m by 20m hosts her poultry farm.

Aptly named Goshen Bird Farm, it is almost a near perfect depiction of the Biblical Goshen, the land in Egypt which the Pharoah offered the Hebrew, from where they moved to Canaan.

Gladys keeps various ornamental birds on her farm that include turkeys, ducks and a variety of bantams (booted, Polish and silkie). The ducks take the lion’s share of her mainly ornamental birds’ collection.

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She has 55 ducks, 23 bantams, 12 turkeys, eight fantail doves, six vulturine guinea fowls, three ordinary guinea fowls and a Kuchi chicken.

“I love ducks, the reason they outnumber the others on my farm. They are easy to keep and brings in the cash,” she offers.

Her duck breeds include Mallards, Cayuga, UK Pekin, Californian Pekin, Swedish Browns, White Runners, Swedish Blacks, Welsh Harlequins and Khaki Campbell. Interestingly, Gladys can point out all of them despite their apparent resemblances.

Some of the ornamental ducks that Gladys keeps
Some of the ornamental ducks that Gladys keeps in her bird farm. PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“Unlike other birds like turkeys, ducks are hardy. They are able to survive in varied conditions without getting sick. I only deworm them.”

She sells day-old ducklings for Sh500 each while duck eggs Sh200 each. Similarly, a mature duck, aged five to six months, goes from Sh4,000 to Sh5,000.

“My ducks are basically ornamental and most buyers buy them for breeding or keeping as pets. My customers are mainly bird breeders and individuals who are running a venture like mine.”

FANTAIL DOVES ARE AN ATTRACTION TOO

She uses her turkeys to brood eggs from her ducks, particularly, when the birds lay about the same time.

“I normally collect the eggs from the ducks’ unit whenever they lay. Each duck normally lays an average of 25 eggs per month starting at five months old. The eggs take 31 days to mature. When I cannot find turkeys or goose to brood the eggs, I sell them.”

After hatching, she feeds the ducklings on chick mash, at two months old she offers them growers mash and greens, including sukuma wiki (collard green) and cabbages, which she buys from the nearby market at Sh50 per sack.

At about five months, she starts offering them layers’ mash in readiness for laying.

“Currently, I have 25 four-month-old ducks, five mature ones and 25 aged one to two months,” she says.

For the bantams, the silkies fetch the most. Their cocks go for Sh10,000 while their hens Sh4,500 each.

Gladys sells the less glamorous Polish and Booted bantams at Sh3,500 and Sh4,000 for the hen and cock of both respectively.

She has nine silkies, six booted, three Polish and five normal bantams. The silkies’ eggs go for Sh300 each while for the rest, the cost is sh200.

Her four pairs of Fantail doves are also an attraction on the farm. The wheat and maize germ-eating doves cost Sh6,000 per pair.

A pair of fantail doves, one of the four pairs
A pair of fantail doves, one of the four pairs that are kept in Goshen Bird Farm, Utawala. PHOTO | BRIAN OKINDA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Some 12 turkeys, three guinea fowls and the Kuchi bird share an enclosure at Goshen farm. A rare, spotlessly white guinea fowl is among them.

“I don’t intend to sell it any time soon because getting it was by chance. I sell the turkeys and guinea fowls for Sh4,000 and Sh3,000 each respectively, while their chicks and eggs cost Sh500 and Sh200 respectively.”

VULTURINE GUINEA FOWL

Another gem on the farm is the rare Vulturine guinea fowl, of which she has six currently. The shy birds look a lot like normal guinea fowls with vultures’ heads.

“They are very rare, only hunted in the wild, by qualified individuals with the necessary licence documentation. I bought a pair of these birds at Sh17,000,” says Gladys, noting she sells at Sh20,000 a pair.

She noted the vulturines lay eggs seasonally, from four to eight eggs, especially during the rainy season and hatch after 24 days, after which they lay again during the next rainy season.

So how did Gladys venture into this lucrative trade?

“In 2014, I was a chicken farmer with 30 layers making a turnover of Sh10,000 in a good month,” she recalls. “Several months later, I wasn’t getting the profits I had envisioned when starting the project, so I went online in search of alternative poultry projects.

My search led me to ornamental birds, where I saw a niche market after speaking to numerous livestock experts.”

A friend, who keeps ornamental birds, made her way into the business in which she invested Sh50,000 smooth. She introduced her to numerous suppliers, sellers and buyers.

“After acquiring a licence at Sh1,500 from Kenya Wildlife Services to keep the birds, I ventured into the business in January last year. I bought three one-day old turkey poults, two mallard ducklings and 30 bantam eggs.”

Using a chicken, she brooded the eggs and hatched 10 of the 30 bantam eggs after 21 days. She sold her 10 one-day-old bantam chicks the next day at Sh500 each.

PROFITABLE AGRIBUSINESS VENTURE

She soon started buying bantam eggs, brooding, hatching and selling the chicks.

Three months later, she sold her nearly mature mallards at Sh4,000 each and with the additional savings from the bantam chicks venture, she went full-throttle into the business.

“I bought a pair of the booted, Polish and silkie bantam chicks. The silkies cost me Sh1,000 each, due to their distinctiveness, while the others cost Sh500 each.”

According to her, market for ornamental birds is growing, and the business is profitable because the birds are hardy.

“I only deworm them though I understand that they can get diseases that include coccidiosis and Newcastle if not vaccinated,” says Gladys, who has leased a small plot near her home, where she grows vegetables like spinach and sukuma wiki using droppings from the birds that stay in simple coops made of wooden planks, iron sheet and wire mesh.

Prof Mathews Dida, an expert from Maseno University’s School of Agriculture, notes that ornamental birds are a big business especially if one has regular customer because they target the niche market.

“With the birds, you can keep several in a small space provided diseases are kept in check and inbreeding is also minimised. Inbreeding leads to weaker birds, while also passing certain other unfavourable characteristics throughout the flock.”

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Source Matters

  • Wild birds to be domesticated should be acquired from credible sources especially from approved farmers who have KWS licence.
  • Farmers interested in rearing wild birds such as guinea fowl, cranes and peacocks should send application to the KWS through respective area warden, and the application should be supported by a management or a business plan.